Tatting is a form of lace making. It is made by forming a pattern of rings and chains using a series of knots and loops. The resulting lace is very durable and more resistant to unravelling. It was developed to imitate point lace.
The technique I am familiar with is shuttle tatting. This is what my grandmother used to do. Other techniques include needle tatting and cro-tatting.
Shuttle tatting is the oldest form, and dates back to the early 19th century. Historically shuttles were made of metal or ivory. Today they come in a variety of materials and shapes, and often have a hook at one end to aid the process.
Needle tatting uses a needle and thread to simulate shuttle tatting. It can be made using either a single thread or a double thread passing through the stitches. Lace made using the double thread method is a bit looser and bulkier, so the single thread method more closely resembles shuttle work.
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Cro-tatting is a combination is a combination of needle tatting and crochet. It uses a tatting needle with a crochet hook at one end. It is considered by many to be more difficult than either crochet or needle tatting. Some instructors recommend using a tatting needle and a crochet hook, rather than the all-in-one cro-tatting tool.
Originally tatting tended to use fine white or ivory thread and intricate designs. Often a number of smaller pieces were made and then joined together to make bigger pieces. From the 1920s onward thicker threads in one or more colours began to be used and newer joining methods meant there were less ends to be hidden in the work.
As with other handcrafts, the internet now provides wonderful resources in the form of free patterns and forums for sharing ideas, along with an amazing online market for patterns and materials.